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When are we going to stop stealing our children’s futures?

Stand for Trees

Last month I traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia along with the Code REDD team to host our signature event REDD+ Talks - a play on the famous TED talks speaking series - where we bring together the REDD+ value chain (climate change experts, leading project developers, local community members, the finance sector and corporate leaders) to facilitate discussion, insight, and partnership to support and scale REDD+ activities around the globe.

I wanted to share a powerful speech that was given by a pioneering REDD+ project developer, Todd Lemons, who explains what REDD+ is and isn’t and poses an incredibly important question to us all: “When are we going to stop stealing our children’s futures?”

Todd is the Founder and Non-Executive Chairman of Infinite Earth. The Rimba Raya Orangutan Reserve Project is one of the 17 projects we represent at Stand For Trees.

Todd’s Speech:      

“I think first to understand what a REDD+ project IS, we need to dispel some myths and understand what it is NOT.  


A REDD+ project is NOT a conspiracy to prevent communities or nations from exercising their right to exploit their natural resources or to grow their economies.

A REDD+ project is meant to provide an alternative path to sustained economic growth.

A REDD+ project is NOT a devious plot to undermine Indigenous Land-Use Rights. We do NOT build fences to prevent forest dependent communities from entering the Rimba Raya Reserve.

Quite to the contrary, we have fought adamantly to protect community land-use rights against the intrusion of other economic interests such as palm oil and we have given communities free access to the Rimba Raya Reserve.          

A REDD+ project is NOT the invention of Carbon Cowboys who get rich from carbon scams.

Carbon cowboys are largely a myth. I’ve never met one and if there ever was one, I’m sure they ended up on the ground, muddy and bruised, like most cowboys.

The vast majority of the focus given to REDD+ has been centered around the potential harm it might cause.

This is ironic, because a REDD+ Project is governed by a very rigorous set of standards - namely the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard.

REDD+ body.jpgImage: Stand for Trees

These standards are so rigorous and so robust that even though InfiniteEARTH is the pioneer of the world’s first REDD+ accounting methodology, it took us more than 18 months to pass our first VCS and CCBA validation.                        

Rimba Raya is one of the world’s only REDD+ projects to be awarded triple gold verification by the CCBA.

We’ve now been through 3 additional verifications and yet our last one in 2015 still required an arduous 6 months to complete.

We undergo these rigorous 3rd party audits every year and must prove within a 95% confidence interval that carbon stocks have remained unchanged since the previous audit; that degraded forests are being reforested and that biodiversity and communities have both flourished.

All this has to be paid for out of private funds BEFORE receiving a single credit that we can begin to try and sell. That’s when the really hard work begins. Finding a market for something everybody needs but nobody understands or is afraid to buy.



A REDD+ project IS an extraordinary tool for developing nations to explore alternative paths to economic prosperity.

A REDD+ project IS, primarily, a rural community development initiative. Using the principles of REDD+, Rimba Raya endeavors to transform local economies from unsustainable extractive landscapes into prosperous and productive landscapes.

REDD+ has the potential to utterly transform rural communities, and in doing so, to transform a nation.

But for that to happen, SOMEONE has to pay.

REDD+ projects were meant to provide an alternative to conventional conservation, unsustainably funded from charitable donations.                        

REDD+ was meant to provide a market mechanism for valuing and paying for environmental services.

But, that has largely not happened. I believe that has not happened because we have refused to address the issue of RESPONSIBILITY.

Much of today’s talks will be dedicated to the issue of “Funding for REDD+”. That we find ourselves here, at this late stage, discussing how to get paid for something we’ve already built, is a clear indication that somebody got the cart ahead of the horse.

Before REDD+ even had a chance to breath, it has undergone such an intense scrutiny that is nearly “the great idea that never was."

Before we can judge whether REDD+ works, before we can judge it on its merits, before we can judge whether it’s a viable alternative for developing nations, MARKETS need to be developed for REDD credits.

Funding for REDD+ should be simple in my mind. We have to discuss RESPONSIBILITY and address paying for that responsibility through market mechanisms.                                                                

When I consume a Nestle candy bar or use Unilever shampoo made with Indonesian palm oil from Wilmar or SINARMAS, I am stealing from my children’s futures. I am stealing from Indonesian children’s futures.

Our children are subsidizing our consumption because, the price of that candy bar and shampoo does NOT include the environmental replacement costs that were incurred in the conversion of all this natural capital into oil palm plantations.

I fear that my children or their children will never know the beauty and or importance of a lowland peat swamp forest because at the rate we’re going, they’ll all be gone, and along with them, orangutans will be extinct.

So, WHO is responsible and WHO must pay for the environmental costs of the goods and services embedded in those products? Who will pay for the work that REDD+ projects provide? The Indonesian government? Wilmar? Unilever?

I contend that it is WE the CONSUMERS that must pay. WE cannot escape our personal responsibility.

I hope that in our discussions today, that as consumers, we will not bury our heads in the sand; that as so called environmentalists, we will not obfuscate or overcomplicate. My hope is, that as governments, today we will open our minds to the full potential of REDD+ and that as corporations we will not grandstand about all the great things we’re doing as responsible corporate citizens, when in fact, we’re really not.

Because, the truth is, we are simply NOT doing enough.

None of us are doing enough.

Not even Rimba Raya is doing enough. We have really just begun - all because we refuse to have the only important discussion that really matters:

When are we going to stop stealing from our children’s futures and start paying the fully burdened price for the goods and services we consume today?

My hope is that today we will finally have meaningful discussions about how corporations can provide consumers with a platform for paying nations, communities and projects for the environmental services they are already providing.                                                          

My hope is that someday, before it’s too late, I will be able to look my children and yours in the eyes and honestly say “I paid my fair share”.                

About Rimba Raya Orangutan Reserve

RimbaRaya_Project.jpgImage: Stand For Trees

Nestled in the southern coast of Borneo lies the Rimba Raya Orangutan Reserve. One of the most highly endangered ecosystems in the world, the High Conservation Value (HCV), lowland peat swamp forest is home to local communities and over 1,000 at-risk plant and animal species, including the Borneo orangutan, clouded leopard, and Asian sun bear. Everyday, paper and palm oil interests put Indonesian forests in jeopardy. If these forests are cut down, we run the risk of emitting one of the largest concentrations of natural carbon in the world.

Purchasing Stand For Trees Certificates helps protect these forests and all those who depend on them including local communities and local wildlife — keeping carbon stored in their trees and out of our atmosphere. In addition, your purchase helps improve access to clean water, efficient cook stoves, and health care for all those who live in the project area.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of each of the partners of Global Citizen.